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Do you know that solar power is the most abundant and cleanest of all the different power sources available to the earth? This is the purest form of energy that comes from the sun, which is later transformed into electrical energy.
Solar energy is captured by using a large array of solar panels. Sunlight that falls on the panels’ surface is directly converted into electrical power.
As solar power technology continues to evolve more and more, we can see that in the last decade, there has been a sudden upsurge in demand for solar power across the globe.
Companies began to invest hugely in developing technologies to harness the sun’s energy. The ultimate goal is to gradually reduce and eliminate the dependence on non-renewable energy resources.
In this article, we will discuss the pros and cons of solar power.
Starting a solar farm
Solar farms are huge installations spread over a big area hosting hundreds of solar panels to generate large scale energy. Starting a solar farm is excellent, provided you have the initial investment amount and the right infrastructure.
You will need at least 6-8 acres of sunlit land to generate 1 MW of electricity.
Read more with “Everything you need to know aboutstarting a solar farm.”
What are the advantages of solar farms?
Following are the benefits that can be achieved through solar farms:
Production of renewable energy
As we all know, solar farms do the magic of converting abundant solar power into electricity. As a result, solar power is considered a renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels which might run out at any time due to excessive use.
One of the solar farms’ biggest advantages is that they are almost maintenance-free. The primary cost of the solar power plant system is the initial equipment cost. Once installed, the maintenance cost is extremely low.
Some solar power systems have moving parts to maximise exposure to sunlight. These moving parts might require additional maintenance, but it is negligible.
Unlike fossil power systems, once installed, the solar power modules can last up to 25 years, posing an additional advantage.
Unlike hydroelectric or wind power farms, solar power plants do not have any moving parts. This means there is usually no wear and tear. Thus, continuous power can be ensured maintenance-free.
We live in a world where many pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG) are continually being released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.
This, in turn, has a serious environmental impact and may severely affect the lives of future generations. Power plants such as thermal and nuclear are notoriously known for the massive amount of pollutants emitted every hour.
However, as said before, solar power plants do not have any GHG emissions, thereby helping to protect the environment.
One may argue that carbon dioxide and other gases are emitted during the manufacturing process of solar modules. Although true, it is minimal compared to the long term environmental benefits one can derive from solar farms.
Growing solar industry
The solar industry is undergoing massive growth across the globe. This is many because world nations have understood the limitless possibility it could offer. More and more countries are opting to install solar power plants and reduce the use of fossil fuels.
Read: Solar farms in Australia
However, as photovoltaic technology (PV) has developed over the years, There has been an evolution of more economical manufacturing processes of the solar cells.
One-off investment with long-term returns
Companies are excited to invest in solar power projects as they have:
- Negligible maintenance
- No operating cost and
- Low recurring cost
Solar panels are long-lasting and will deliver the same power output even after years of putting them in use.
While considering the returns, the break-even point of solar farms is around eight years. But once that point is crossed, whatever revenue they generate brings in profits. This can go up to the next 16-17 years or more.
Decrease fossil fuel reliance
It is true that in today’s scenario, nothing can beat the power-delivering capacity of coal, oil and natural gas. However, by promoting solar farms, it may be possible to gradually move towards clean energy sources.
Countries such as India and China have taken major steps in installing massive solar power plants, such as Huaneng Power International in China and Adani solar power plant in India.
It’s safe and quiet
If you look at thermal, solar or hydroelectric power plants, you will realise that there is a high level of complexity in their design and operation. One engineering issue could result in a catastrophic explosion and a massive repair cost.
Solar farms, are however, much safer
In addition, as there are no moving parts in a solar farm(except the DC to AC alternator), the noise produced is minimal.
Helps local economy
Solar farms help to boost the local economy and create jobs. However, this only happens at the initial phase of the project, as once running, it requires minimal manpower.
What are the disadvantages of solar farms?
Although solar power plants come with multiple benefits, there are some disadvantages that you should be aware of. Let’s take a look at a few.
Negative impact on the local environment
A large amount of area is needed for putting up a solar farm. Additionally, once installed, they might negatively interfere with the region’s natural ecosystem.
This may also indirectly affect the neighbouring ecosystems due to their interconnectedness.
Other than that, installing solar power plants could affect the growth of natural flora on the ground.
Therefore, before giving a green signal to any solar project, it would be advisable to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Large land requirements – can link to floating solar panels
Solar farms require a large amount of area for installation. Most solar farms are more than 100 acres in size. For example, in Tamilnadu, Adani group is installing a 648 MW solar farm, which has a total area of 10 square kilometres.
High initial cost
On average, installing solar panels can cost around $3,500 to $40,000, depending on the model and type. This is indicative of the huge costs of putting up a solar farm that consists of multiple solar panels.
This is mainly because solar panels use silica of the highest purity along with certain rare materials.
Sun dependant output
Solar panels are fully dependent on the sun’s energy to produce electricity. This means electric energy can only be produced during the day when sunlight is available.
In addition, solar farms’ output varies based on different seasons, such as snow, fog, hail, etc., depending on the intensity of sunlight received.
The peak production can only be ensured during the summer when the sunlight is fully intense.
Costly energy storage
Since the solar power plant do not produce energy during the night, the electric power produced must be stored in the solar batteries.
However, our present-day battery technology has to evolve further for more energy storage. Moreover, solar batteries can be a bit expensive which might add to the costs incurred.
Low solar efficiency
Our present-day solar technology is not fully efficient. For example, present-day solar panels have an efficiency of only 20%, and the overall efficiency will be less than 20%.
This is way less than the efficiency achieved for hydroelectric or thermal power plants. However, as the technology continues to advance, we can expect higher efficiency solar panels soon in the near future.
Requires rare materials
To make greener solar panels, companies are using rare earth elements. However, the downside is that it increases the cost of manufacturing mainly due to the material and transportation costs involved.
Solar farm FAQ
Do solar farms lower property value?
Most people tend to believe that solar farms will lower their property value. However, this is a misconception. Various studies have shown that having a solar farm nearby:
- Won’t have any significant impact on the price of the property.
- Will not put off the sale of residential or agricultural land.
How long do solar farms last?
PV panels have an incredibly long life. Research has shown that solar panels can last more than 25 years.
It might come as a surprise for many of you, but solar panels installed as early as the 1980s still produce power. In recent years, advancements in solar power technology have dramatically increased the panels’ performance and longevity.
Are solar farms a good investment?
PV farms are a long-term investment with a solid profit. The return on investment for a solar farm is between 10-20%. Most solar farms can pay off the investment in 5-7 years and will have decades of free electricity.
However, one also needs to take into consideration certain other factors, such as:
- Local weather conditions
- Installation cost
- Technology used
- Size of the system etc.
Do solar farms damage the soil?
Solar panels are properly sealed to ensure that none of the material is exposed to the surrounding environment.
However, if there is damage to the seal, chances are likely that the harmful toxic materials will seep into the surrounding land.
Another major concern is the productivity of the land.
How far should you live from a solar farm?
A nearby solar farm doesn’t offer any risk to human or animal life. As PV panels generate electricity, electromagnetic fields are generated from the panels.
However, the EM field generated from the panels are extremely weak, and scientists have concluded that it does not cause harm to life.
How loud are solar farms?
There is no noise generation as there are no moving parts in a solar panel. However, the additional equipment associated with solar farms produces a certain amount of noise. The minimal noise one hears from solar farms is mainly produced from:
- Inverter fans
- Inverter humming
- Loose cabling
- Birds and animals that shelter under the panels
- Poorly screwed racking
However, noise from the panels rarely exceeds 45dB and most of them only generate noise within 30dB(the sound of whispering at night).
Are they any health concerns living next to a solar farm?
Solar panels convert the sun’s power into electricity transmitted via the power grid. Solar panels do generate electromagnetic waves just like any electrical or electronic device.
But the question is, does it have any impact on human health?
Over the last decade, researchers from across the globe, especially from the WHO, have extensively studied the impact of EM fields generated by solar panels on the human body.
There is substantial evidence that it does not cause any harm to the human body. However, the research is continuing as more conclusive evidence is necessary.
It is estimated that in the near future, more nations will gradually shift to harness the sun’s clean energy. Solar power technology is developing rapidly to create cleaner, more efficient, and cheaper solar panels. This is perhaps a good indication that the number of solar farms around the globe will only continue to increase.